Vues de Beyrouth (Videos from Beirut)

Galerie B-312, Montreal / Artpapers, Atlanta: 2006
videos by: Ziad Antar and Marc Casal Liotier, Mireille Eid Astore, Mansour El-Habre, Khaled Ramadan, Rima Saab, Louma Salamé, Shawki Youssef, Akram Zaatari

This program of  videos curated by Ricardo Mbarak and Wadih Safieddine includes work both by artist who are relatively well known outside Lebanon (such as Akram Zaatari whose work has been seen at the Sydney and Sao Paulo biennales) as well as artists whose work has not been widely circulated. Several exhibitions of the work of Lebanese artists such as 'Out of Beirut' at Modern Art Oxford (UK) this year and the wide circulation of the work of Walid Raad / The Atlas Group attest to a desire for an alternate view on the events of the last decade in the middle east and in Lebanon in particular. Though widely varied the works of these artists present an attempt to re-witness or reprocess decades of conflict and foreign intervention not through the distorting eye of the media but through the creative methodologies of cultural production. It is the power of the imagination to make conjecture and creative propositions in the real world which fact-based methodologies like journalism, politics, and the social sciences simply can not approach because of their responsibility to divide 'fact' from 'conjecture' (which is possibly no more that a form of sanitization).

It is one thing to judge works of art with an eye to relative quality in the terms of the criteria of contemporary international art and it is quite another to approach this work as a continuing and necessary collective unfolding of the construction of truth, history and event in a region constantly being interpreted through journalism with its preoccupation with facts and news, where history is written not only by the victors but through the casual expediency of the media, where image dominates analysis and the news event is valued precisely because it can be presented as a surprise with no roots in historical or lived reality. These videos have a vital place in our world because we need to know more. The quality of these works, in formal terms, is quite variable and the strategies occasionally clumsy but together they are evidence of the slow processing that the trauma of violent disruption entails. The tapes predominantly deal with the civil war (1975-1991) and its aftermath, slowly sifting through 'the facts' to uncover something real,  to make lived sense out of it - a need which is ongoing so many years later. Further, they offer alternative ground for assessing the most recent violent acts such as the Harriri assassination and the Israeli invasion.

Mishwar by Ziad Antar and Marc Casal Liotier deals directly with the aftermath of war as Hadi searches for confirmation of the fate of his brother who disappeared during the conflict. Told through interviews juxtaposed to recent shots of public demonstrations surrounding the Syrian withdrawal the video reinforces the continuity between past and current events. He knows that it is his brother's body which has be exhumed from a grave because he recognizes the t-shirt his brother was wearing but he is waiting for confirmation of DNA evidence from France before telling his mother. The wait for scientific proof which will allow closure for the family is agonizing and in fact does not happen in the video. We are left suspended between doubt and certainty like so many caught in the massive erasure of continuity that is one of the unseen destructions of armed conflict.

Akram Zaatari's In This House attempts to rebuild continuity and memory in a different way. Ali, a member of the leftist Lebanese resistance sits with a portrait of Che Guevara in the background and recalls a house which his group commandeered and used for six years. He recalls how, out of respect for the family whose owned the house, they refrained from causing unnecessary damage, carefully removing windows, not destroying tiles and not using the family olive tree for firewood. Preparing to leave the house, Ali buried a letter in the garden to explain the actions of his group. Zaatari and a laborer return ten years later and begin digging for the letter. For most of a day they do not find it, casting doubt on the specific facts of memory, and various neighbors and officials comment on the process. The dig is interminable, casual and quite humorous. In the end the canister appears and the letter is read out loud confirming both Ali's story and the fragility of memory as record.

  1. Curators: Ricardo Mbarak, Wadih Safieddine